"Stoker" is South Korean director Park Chan-wook's first English-language film. After The Vengeance Trilogy (especially "Oldboy") and "Thirst," which is one of the most original vampire films to be released in recent years, Park Chan-wook should have already been a fairly recognized name going into "Stoker." However, since "Stoker" is a bit scaled back when compared to his other works; it's a pretty solid introduction to an extremely talented filmmaker.
India (Mia Wasikowska) has just lost her father to a car accident. Since they were relatively close with one another, India isn't taking the loss very well. She is incredibly withdrawn, doesn't speak much, and her behavior is unusual. India's mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is only barely keeping it together as she's trying to move on with her life, but her defense mechanism kicks in whenever somebody brings up her husband's name. Charlie (Matthew Goode), an uncle India never even knew existed, moves in and makes matters even more uncomfortable than they already are. His questionable motives only pique India's fascination with Charlie and the Stoker family becomes more than a little unsettling because of it.
The opening and ending credits make it a point to be unlike most credit sequences out there. The text in the opening of the film interacts with whoever is on-screen like when Mia Wasikowska walks across a road in the middle of nowhere and her name slowly disappears as she walks towards it. The end credits scroll the opposite way you're used to; from top to bottom rather than bottom to top. Pay particular attention to how sound is utilized. The metronome sequence is done extremely well as is the importance of a ringing phone.
The psychological thriller heavily relies on creepy and disturbing behavior that continues to snowball throughout its 98-minute duration. We witness India pop a blister on her toe and the film plays with how keen her sense of hearing is. The long-shot of the camera following India through the house is intriguing, but even more so is the way the film transitions from one scene to the next; a hard-boiled egg slowly turns into India's eye and Evelyn's brushed hair becomes the tall grass in the field India and her father are hunting in.
The Uncle Charlie character causes every situation to almost feel like a bad punch line to what was already a really bad joke to begin with. These situations make your upper lip curl, your nostrils flare, and your face distort automatically in disgust. Charlie's dialogue alone ("India practically licked it clean") is awkward enough, but he hangs out at her high school, makes out with her mom when he knows she's watching, and makes playing piano with someone feel like a porno. However, the film is supposed to make you fidget in your seat and make you uneasy and "Stoker" is able to do this with the greatest of ease.
You're immediately drawn to everyone's eyes in the film. The dinner scene where Charlie lets India drink some of his wine is what first comes to mind, but Evelyn's speech to India near the end of the film is also a great example. Their eyes are just so absorbing, unflinching, and cold. They seem almost completely absent of typical human behavior.
"Stoker" has many similarities to "Oldboy" that seem to have become Park Chan-wook's trademarks; whistling is to "Stoker" what humming is to "Oldboy," there's a big emphasis on wrapped gifts that is shrouded in mystery in both films, and incest has practically become an ongoing theme for Park Chan-wook. Mia Wasikowska delivers what is surely to be the biggest WTF shower sequence of the year, but "Stoker" also manages to put a spin on household items that will never make you look at them the same way again. It was a hammer in "Oldboy," in "Stoker" it's belts, garden shears, and snow angels.
"Stoker" lacks the bite that Park Chan-wook's South Korean films deliver and doesn't punch you in the gut and kick you while you're down nearly as hard as The Vengeance Trilogy does, but "Stoker" is still undeniably unsettling and an expertly crafted thriller.